Dear faithful blog readers,
We have had a very hard time finding internet access to keep up to date on our blog, or the time with which to devote to it. We are seven cities behind and feel as though we can't catch up! We leave for India soon, and travel to Africa after that, so we aren't sure about the availability of access or coverage there. This means you will have to seek us out upon our return so we can share our wonderful adventures, pictures, and memories with you. Thank you for following our trip and supporting us!
Sloan and Parker
Hello Blog Readers!
We know it has been awhile, and we sincerely apologize! We have either not had an internet connection, or have been having so much fun traveling we haven't been keeping up (lots of friends and family have been visiting!)! We will catch up though.......for a while pictures will have to serve as our "1000" words! Thanks for checking in, and we will try to be better about updating our adventures!
Location: Istanbul, Turkey
After clearing no less than four security checks in the St. Petersburg airport, we were finally on our way to Istanbul. Our driver dropped us off at our apartment in a very residential part of the Old City, Sultanahmet, on the south European side of Istanbul. Right next to us were old, wooden, primitive, shack-like buildings, almost incomprehensible to think people live like this, big families cramped up in tiny places. But the neighborhood had lots of character defined by elders and children playing in the streets. A wake up call came very early the next morning. We thought perhaps a man was using a megaphone to chant something outside our window, it took a second to realize that is was the Muslim prayer call, played on loudspeakers throughout the city, 5 times a day!!! The next morning, we made our way up to the center of Sultanahmet, and were awed by the beauty and enormity of the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia, both grand religious symbols set apart by what is left of an ancient Hippodrome. Behind the Hagia Sofia lies the retired summer residence for the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire. Walking through the somewhat subtle gardens toward the palace, we had no idea of the opulence that lay behind its walls. The rooms were decorated lavishly with velvet and fabric walls, contained enormous hand-carved furniture, wood mosaic floors w/ inlay pearl, tile and incredible frescos on the ceilings, accompanied by gold gilding! In addition to the décor, these rooms were filled with the Sultans treasures. We saw China from the Ming Dynasty and ancient Egyptian carvings. But perhaps the most amazing, were all the items covered with jewels, all sizes, shapes and colors, the most popular being rubies, emeralds, and diamonds (one of which was 54 carats!). In addition to the normal things you would think a Sultan would cover with jewels like crowns, thrones, etc., there were also writing boxes, sword cases, water crafts, basically if his hand touched it, it was jeweled. The view from the back walls of the palace was impressive, set high up on a hill, you could see the northern Europe side across the Golden Horn, as well as the Asian side and also look way up the Bosphorus River for miles and miles.
A visit to the Grand Bazaar tested our bargaining skills, willpower, and patience. This giant indoor marketplace had everything you could ever need - you could decorate a house, feed a dozen people, and cloth an army all in one stop! We weaved through the throngs of people and pushy merchants to explore booth after booth of hanging glass globes, Turkish rugs, t-shirts, backgammon boards, miles of shoes and leather, and gold jewelry, just to name a few.
One day was spent cruising up the Bosphorus, the giant waterway that splits Istanbul into two continents Europe and Asia, and also connects to the Black Sea. Along with seeing the sights from our boat, we visited a Spice Bazaar and another summer palace of the Ottoman Sultans. Our cruise concluded with a view from the highest point in Istanbul, where we could see the city in all its glory stretched out for miles and miles, covered with flats to house its nearly 12 million inhabitants!
What makes a stay in any city memorable are the people you meet along the way. Three guys; Mustafa hair and Mustafa no-hair, and Ekrem, who arranged our Bosphorus tour, befriended us. They took us out at night and let us hang out w/ them during the day, where we would eat Kebabs, sip on apple tea, converse, and laugh. They were great guys and loads of fun, if you are ever in Sultanahmet and want to do a tour or just have a question look them up, Volare Tour Agency, Divanyolu St. No. 80/A, +90 212 520 70 97, email@example.com.
One word of wisdom: Please be careful if you drink Raki and tap water not a good combination!
Location: St. Petersburg, Russia
After a scenic train ride from Helsinki thru the marshy wetlands of the Gulf of Finland, we arrived in St. Petersburg; our senses became heightened as we stepped out into the bustling street, cars bumper to bumper, honking their horns, people scurring all over like rats in a maze. Right then we knew that this was going to be much different than any of the Scandinavian cities we visited. An escort greeted us and we made our way towards the city centre crossing over the giant Neva river, looking at all of the massive buildings lined up, one after another, after another, noticing that there were very few street signs. We thought to ourselves, thank god we have an escort, as he kindly explained that it was almost impossible to make it from the train station to our apartment unless of course you speak Russsian!! We drove down Nevsky Prospekt, the central thoroughfare, bewildered by the sheer amount of people, shops and overall frenzied activity. Luckily, our apartment was located smack dab in the city centre, right next to the Kazan Cathedral, one of the most impressive structures in St. Petersburg !! We entered through an electronic gate to a cozy courtyard surrounded by what looked like Soviet-Era barracks. After passing through another electronically locked door, which required a special type of key, we arrived at our apartment, which itself had a door sufficient for a bomb shelter, along with 3 giant locks, we knew we would be safe here!! We were pleasantly surprised @ how modern and spacious it was inside. The apartment was tastfully decorated & had high end finishes.
That afternoon we got our first taste of the Nevsky and the Russian alphabet, which we could not decipher (nor the langauge)! We decided a walking tour might be a good idea to get educated. It so happened that our native St. Peterburg guide was a foreign exchange student at Eaglecrest High School in Aurora, so we had a lot to talk about! The tour was quite lengthy as we visited many historical sights. That evening, after literally walking around in circles, we found the underground disco our guide had recommended - it was housed in an old underground bomb shelter. Everyone knew we were American, but no one seemed to mind.
We trekked over the Neva River to Peter and Paul's Frotress, only to discover a nice man-made beach, which of course we took advantage of. We spent the better part of another day at the Hermitage. With over three million works of art, it was a lot to take in! Art from all different European influences and countries can be found throughout the many rooms of this winter palace for the Czars.
Our last night in St. Petersburg was spent cruising up the Fontanka Canal and Neva River. It was quite a sight to see the city lit up at night, showcasing some of its grand architecture. The highlight of the night was the raising of the drawbridges.
All in all, Russia was a unique experience. At times we felt welcome, and other times you get the feeling the Cold War mentality still exists. We were always safe, but at times there was an element of danger lurking in the air, maybe due to all of the crazy history.
PS One night while dinning @ a nice steak restaurant, we were fortunate to be accompained by the Russian Mob, everyone was quite subdued by the presence of four huge lurking bodygaurds blocking the entrance!
Thank you for your patience, we were unable to sustain a constant internet connection the past few weeks!
Our journey to Finland began with an overnight "ferry" ride from Stockholm to Helsinki. We soon discovered this "ferry", was much more like a cruise ship - complete with shops, various restaurants, a pub, disco, a swimming pool (indoor, this is Scandinavia after all), the works! First up, was to get serious @ the all you can eat buffet, which was absolutely scrumptious. We then waddled out to the deck, watched the sun slowly set, illuminating against deep dark waters of the Baltic Sea. Later on during a game of cribbage, a drunk Irishman thru down 50 Euros for the winner. (Parker would like to note he won!). Shortly thereafter, we hit the disco and danced the night away. With three hours of sleep in a below-deck cabin, we were happy to finally be on Finnish ground! This experience brought back many fond memories of cruising the carribean in our teens.
We spent a day at one of Helsinki's many beaches arriving through somewhat of a forest of pine trees, right into white sandy beaches, where we encountered sunbathers soaking up rays, as their summer is brief. A visit to the department store, Stockmann, was a shopper's nirvana. In addition to the normal high-end department store wares, you could find a pet store, toy store, gourmet restaurants, a full grocery store with a bakery in the basement, the equivilant of a Whole Foods and basically an electronic's department similiar to Best Buy. What more could you ask for, Stockman is an institution in Helsinki.
We took advantge of Helsinki's excellent location on the Baltic Sea by visiting one it's it's neighbors, Estonia, via the Super Sea Cat, a high speed ferry, which dropped us in Tallinn, Estonia's capital. Throughout history, Tallinn was claimed by four different countries before becoming independent, and the architectiure and influence of these countries gives it a very unique look. It was quite an impressive sight to see the "Old Town" mixed right in the current modern day development all around.
The Finnish people were some of the friendliest and fun folks we have encountered. They have a keen eye for quality, from fashion to building. Definitely a city worth visiting if you're up in Scandinavia!!!!
Greetings from Russia! We are experiencing some internet issues, spec. we don't really have access, so be patient! We will blog and show you our cool pictures of Finland (and Russia) when we can!
Location: Stockholm, Sweden
Our first taste of Sweden was wet.......we stopped in Gothenberg, on the west coast, before going to Copenhagen. It was a lively town, however, the torrents of rain prevented us from exploring it thoroughly! Stockholm's greeting was better, the sun was shining, the temperture was above 50...... We finally have somewhat of a handle on public transportation, and we mastered the Stockholm Metro which transported us all over the fourteen islands that make up the city of Stockholm. Little did we know we had arrived just in time for the Tall Ships Race, and hundreds of sailboats and thousands of people overtook the harbor for this prestigious event. We took advantage of this time to get out of the city, with a cruise through the Stockholm Archipelago, which consists of about 24, 000 islands in the Baltic Sea. Some are inhabitated, many Stockholmers have cottages here, and some islands are too small for anything but birds!
Side note: Grease is making a serious comeback (as you can see from the car picture!). We saw several cars and the guys to go with them. Chain smoking continues, pregnant women are everywhere (must of been a long, hard winter!), and crocs have definitely hit Europe!
Location: Copenhagen, Denmark
The sun finally greeted us as we arrived in Copenhagen! We rented a flat in a funky, upbeat part of town called Vesterbro, and our host, Maria, picked us up at the train station and gave us a tour of the city. She took us to dinner at Christiana, a small town within Copenhagen which began from squatters living in old army barracks. Somewhat of a hippie commune, it is self-governing and even has it's own school and doctor's office! A sight to see! As luck would have it, the sun was shining two days in a row, so we made a break for the beach. Just like the beaches of Mexico, minus the palm trees and warm water, add in lots of topless sunbathers! In the distance, you can see an offshore wind farm, that generates 20% of Copenhagen's power. People here seem to be very environmentally conscious. After fun in the sun, we sought out some family roots! Our maternal great-great-grandparents were born in Copenhagen, and our great-grandparents immigrated to the United States from Copenhagen. Thanks to genial research supplied by our mom, we visited the Church of our Savior, where some of our ancestors were baptized and buried. It was a powerful feeling to stand where they once stood so many years ago. Along the way we also saw many castles (Europe has really got a lot of castles!), some of Denmark's beautiful countryside, and even squeezed in some Tour de France viewing!
Side note: In Copenhagen, you are never far away from salons, kiosks (mini-middle eastern run grocery store), and kebab grills (tasty, quick, middle-eastern influenced food), portable hot dog stands, and chain-smokers like you cannot believe!
On the W. coast of Norway, heading up through the fjords via ferry to Bergen, and later on the train eastbound to Oslo, we were able to see much of Norway, a very diverse set of landscapes. From the intricate channel ways filled w/ clear blue water, abutting numerous islands, it's hard to imagine that the Vikings didn't really have any sort of navigational systems other than distant landmarks. Just beyond the fjords, lies several different spectacular mountain ranges that looked very similiar to our Rocky Mountains, still covered in snow, slowly melting away forming into creeks, turning into bustling rivers. There were many small remote towns, composed of tiny primitive cabins, that the Norwegians used to take advantage of nature @ it's finest. After an 8 hour train ride, we arrived in Oslo, a big port city, and of course it was raining, never stopped for 3 days, but nonetheless we had fun exploring. Intersting to see 7-11's literally on every street corner. These were not like any we have in the states, offering gourmet deserts such as raspberry cheescake, to a la carte mexican food, it was darn tasty!!!
A real blast from the past... Metallica was on tour and the entire city of Oslo was suddenly turned upside down as 100's of Metallicans were getting their pre-party on, a real sight to see!!!
Location: Stavanger, Norway
I left Parker to ride his bike and explore Amsterdam while I met my friend Jenn and her parents in Stavanger, Norway, where they are working for about a year. Stavanger is on the west coast of Norway, situated in between fjords and close to the North Sea. It is a beautiful town, filled with just enough shopping to be hip, and just enough tourist attractions to be interesting. Cruising around the Lysefjord was spectacular, very rugged and rocky mountains jutting up from the crystal clear blue/green water! Dipped my feet in the North Sea (brrrrrr!) and hiked to German WWII bunkers and a beautiful waterfall. Waved to a Queen and enjoyed the company of a good friend and her gracious family. Parker and I are off to Bergen (farther up the west coast) and then to Oslo.
Location: Amsterdam, Netherlands
As we sit in this cozy French cafe in the Rembrandtplein (one of the many "town squares") we are at a loss of words to adequately describe Amsterdam, but here goes.......
Unique, ornate, old buildings, surrounded by more canals than Venice, are the road map of the city and often referred to when getting around. However, 10,000s of people ride old-fashioned, heavy, chromoly Dutch cruisers, complete with baskets and panyards to commute. The Dutch women give a new meaning to muilti-tasking: talking on their cell phones, holding umbrellas or large bags, riding in stilettos, hauling @ss! Parker is in heaven!
People seem so cosmopolitan here (and tall!), there is a lot of high-fashion, boutique shopping and a wide variety of tasty restaurants. We ate tapas, Italian, Argentian, and crepes. We have also enjoyed Amsterdam's rich artistic culture and history, visiting the Van Gogh Museum and the Rembrandt house.
At night, Amsterdam shows it's flair with lounges, bars, and clubs, people scattered throughout the various Pleins. It's other flare, however, illuminates "Red Light" from a certian area showcasing many girls behind glass posing for eager prospects. As one might guess, the city has a very liberal and laid-back atmoshpere where anything goes and most people are accepting of all.
We hope this gives you a glimpse into life here in Amsterdam.
WOW - Amsterdam - a lot to take in! Got lots of things going on, so many in fact, we have been neglecting the blog! Sorry! Busy on our cruisers checking out all the sights, amidst the rain here too. More later..............